Group work: investigating the requirements of a student resource

Sonia Hood, Study Adviser, Library                                                             s.hood@reading.ac.uk                                                                                                                     Year of activity: 2015/16

Overview

The project explored both the challenges and solutions of assessed group work, from a staff and student perspective. Focus groups and in-depth interviews with undergraduates, postgraduates and staff revealed a number of key challenges such as: confronting ‘difficult’ group members; ensuring fairness; and dealing with varying priorities. A number of solutions were proposed including: careful consideration of the % mark allocated to group work; training on dealing with challenging individuals; more emphasis on self-awareness; and timetabled group work sessions. The project offers a number of recommendations to anyone wishing to improve their students’ ability to engage positively with group work.

Objectives

  • To explore the challenges and solutions to assessed group work, from a student and staff perspective
  • To offer recommendations that support students to independently solve some of the challenges they face with this form of assessment
  • To create a ‘student reviewed’ bank of group work resources

Context

Group work is an integral part of assessment at university but students rarely arrive equipped with the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with the challenges they face when working in groups. As a result this can be a cause of anxiety for students and also a time consuming intervention for lecturers. Henley Business School (HBS) approached Study Advice for help in supporting their students to deal with the group work challenges they face. Whilst it was accepted that a wide range of open access group work resources were already available, it was felt that students needed help navigating these. In addition, it was felt in order to truly support students with group work we first needed to understand the challenges they face, how they have/intend to overcome these and how best they would like to be supported in doing this. Real Estate and Planning (REP) students were chosen as the sample and focus groups and in-depth interviews were used to explore the perceptions, challenges and proposed solutions for assessed group work.

Implementation

A student researcher post was developed and an REP student was employed over the summer to evaluate the wealth of open access resources available on group work. This resulted in a folder of group work resources being created and uploaded onto Blackboard.  In addition a pack containing key resources was compiled and handed out to part 1 REP students when commencing their first group work project.

A staff focus group took place in June 2015, where 7 HBS staff members discussed the challenges and solutions to group work from their experience and perspective. Following this, in the autumn term part 1 students from REP were invited to a focus group to discuss their early perceptions of group work at university. In the spring term, 6 students following MSc planning courses contributed to a focus group, discussing the challenges they faced and their proposed solutions. Finally over the course of the spring and summer terms, 8 in-depth interviews were carried out with both undergraduates (UGs) and postgraduates (PGs) following Real Estate and Planning courses to explore their individual experiences with this form of assessment. These interviews and focus groups were then transcribed, analysed and themed into both challenges and solutions.

Impact

All three objectives of this study were reached. We now have a bank of resources to support students with group work, available on Blackboard, which can be copied into any course.

Group work student pack
Excerpt from Student Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The initial pack handed out to students proved to be useful for undergraduates, mainly as an aid to focus early group discussions. The research has helped to develop our understanding of the challenges students face and the solutions they feel could be implemented. These are being disseminated in the first instance to those in REP and then to the wider T&L community. It is hoped that these findings will help to improve the effectiveness and experience of group working for a wide variety of students.

Reflections

The interviews and focus groups revealed the complex challenges associated with group work: not least in dealing with conflict and difficult group members, managing different priorities within the group and the perception of fairness with regards the marking system. Solutions varied between the PG and UG students, though all recognised that effective teams take time to get to know each other informally. Students suggested that informal events could be organised as part of their course to help them through this ‘forming’ stage. PG students also asked for careful consideration of how the mark for group work is allocated (with a higher proportion allocated to individual work) and a penalty imposed as a last resort. More support was requested in dealing with conflict and difficult team members, and the need for more self-reflection from everyone within the group was identified. There are also some simple things we can do to help students with the practicalities of group work, like timetabling group work sessions and  booking rooms at set times for students to use. In terms of tutor support, it was recognized that their time was limited; when it comes to personal issues within a group, speaking to a mentor (like a part 2 student) who could offer confidential, impartial advice would be a preferable option for UGs.

Follow up

Overall, the majority of students recognised the importance and value of group work, not only for future careers but also in the depth and breadth of work they could produce. There are a complex set of challenges that students face in dealing with this form of assessment and this project reveals some solutions that students believe we could implement to help them to deal with issues independently.

Work continues on this project, as at present we are only just starting to disseminate the findings. Whilst the recommendations from this small scale study might not be relevant to all engaged in group work, it is felt that a number of themes and challenges are shared across a variety of disciplines. We would welcome speaking to anyone who is interested in finding out more about this project and how they might benefit from this research.

Supporting Inclusivity and Diversity in Language Teaching and Learning at the University of Reading Authored by Laura Brown, Regine Klimpfinger, Daniela Standen and Enza Siciliano Verruccio

Language learning and disability: how to avoid the ‘avoidance’?

When the university disability office was approached in 2003 by a new member of staff for guidance on the assessment of a dyslexic student enrolled on a language module, the reply was that students with dyslexia are better advised to avoid foreign language courses. Fast-forward to 2017, and issues of ‘course substitution’, or ‘avoidance’,[i] when it comes to the study of foreign languages and learning difficulties, are still emerging today, as anecdotally reported by prospective secondary school applicants to this university.

When the principles of inclusivity and diversity, fresh from the new University of Reading Curriculum Framework, were chosen as the focus of this year’s university Teaching and Learning conference (January 2017), the discussion and thinking it provoked pointed clearly towards the need – within our institution and within our discipline in this institution – for a thorough reflection on how our current language teaching practices, our language curricula, and the general university procedures can best support students with disabilities who do not wish to avoid learning a foreign language.

Reflecting on disabilities and language teaching and learning practices: a workhop

This is when the idea of the Disability and Language Teaching & Learning Workshop was born. On 18 May, 22 language teaching practitioners from the Institution-Wide Language Programme (IWLP), the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies (DMLES), the Department of Classics and the Institute of Education gathered to explore and discuss experiences and practices of, as well as aspirations to, inclusivity and diversity in language teaching and learning here at Reading. They were guided by Laura Brown from the university Disability Office, with the support of Regine Klimpfinger (DMLES Disability Officer), Daniela Standen (International Study and Language Institute Disability Officer), and Enza Siciliano Verruccio (DMLES Language Coordinator).

The workshop consisted of a blend of theory and practice, with a strong focus on group discussion and activity, given the collaborative approach we wanted to engender. We set the scene with Enza recounting the experiences described above. To further examine the kinds of assumptions we may make about certain disabilities, the group then engaged in a ‘Fact or Fiction’ exercise to indicate whether statements were true or false, unearthing potential stereotypes and preconceptions, such as ‘Students with Asperger’s Syndrome can’t do group work’.

In smaller groups, participants then prioritised skills and attributes needed to learn languages, such as phonological processing skills, memory, curiosity and motivation, using a pyramid shape to indicate the most important at the top ranging to least important at the bottom (Picture 1). Skills and attributes were discussed in terms of how disabilities can affect those skills and attributes, for example the advantage of extroversion in acquiring spoken fluency and how this can be impeded by severe social anxiety. This led to a broader presentation on the experiences that disabled students may have in relation to the four key aspects of language learning – speaking, writing, reading and listening – looking both at barriers and strengths that disabled students may experience in relation to various elements of a languages course, such as oral examinations, classroom conversation exercises, timed translation examination papers, etc.


 

 

 

 

 

  1. Groupwork: prioritised language learners’ attributes and skills

The group were then subjected to an impossible memory test and a note-taking exercise using their non-writing hand. These gave them a feel for what it can be like for disabled students to try to fit in with traditional assessment and teaching methods which are unsuited to their learning style.

The group reflected, via Mentimeter, on their experiences of students on their modules who, despite adequate intelligence and effort, struggled with aspects of language learning due to disability (Picture 2). This led to consideration of techniques that can be applied to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in language teaching, across the three core areas of curriculum design, delivery and assessment (Picture 3). The challenges and limitations in applying these techniques were acknowledged as well as the benefits.

 

 

 

 

2. Workshop attendees report own experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Laura Brown from the university Disability Office leads the discussion on embedding inclusivity and diversity in the language curriculum

Case study examples of disabled students successfully studying languages were presented, highlighting particular aspects that helped them to achieve – this led to one of the key messages from the day in the plenary discussion, that small changes can make a huge difference. We also emphasised how people are not on their own in supporting disabled students and that the day’s collaborative approach provided a platform for further building support networks.

Moving forward

The workshop left the participants with solid advice on how to support students as individuals, but more importantly with ideas and possibilities to explore to make the curriculum more inclusive.  From the feedback received there is a clear need and willingness to push these conversations forward. Many expressed the need for more specific information and a forum to share practical ideas and good practice about language teaching and disability, and felt it was paramount to do so collaboratively across departments in order to implement and embed changes. So, keep a look out for the Special Interest Group on disability coming to ISLI and DMLES soon!!

[i] DiFino, S. M. & Lombardino, L. (2004), Language Learning Disabilities: The Ultimate Foreign Language Challenge. Foreign Language Annals, 37, 3, pp. 390-400

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESILIENCE: THE ROUTE TO SUCCESS By Dr Madeleine Davies

A Collaborative Initiative between Dr Madeleine Davies (Department of English Literature), Dr Ute Wolfel (Department of Modern European Languages), Dr Tony Capstick (Department of English Language and Linguistics) and Dr Alicia Pena Bizama (Counselling and Wellbeing)

PROJECT OUTLINE

In December 2016 the three Senior Tutors of the School of Language and Literature (SLL) met to discuss the growing problem of student wellbeing following a steep rise in ECF submissions for MH difficulties. We were concerned not only for the wellbeing of our students but also for their academic development and success, and for their ability to manage their professional futures. We decided that there was more that we could do to prevent student distress, build resilience, and thus support effective teaching and learning so we decided to develop and deliver two-hour, interactive Masterclass titled, ‘Resilience: The Route to Success’.

We consulted Dr Alicia Pena Bizama (Head of Counselling) to help us design a programme that would respond to the specific problems that we had noted in our SLL students. We scheduled three lengthy planning meetings, pooling our ideas and our knowledge: Dr Pena Bizama brought her extensive research into Psychology, and the three Senior Tutors brought knowledge of their individual cohorts and years of experience managing student problems. Together, we designed and produced promotional posters, disseminated the plans to all SLL colleagues, and advertised the Masterclass on Blackboard and Me@Reading. We also sent individual emails to SLL students with a link to a Doodle Poll through which students could reserve a place at the event. This would have been unmanageable for a single colleague in the middle of a busy term, but we spread the load and the materials we produced benefited greatly from the time and input of four colleagues with different research backgrounds and pedagogic expertise.

The planning group decided to intersect with associated key SLL and UofR initiatives: attendance at the Masterclass counted as credit for the Professional Track Programme (SLL) and as credit for the “Life Skills’ initiative, and it connected with the University’s emphasis on student resilience and employability.

DESIGN OF THE PROGRAMME

The Masterclass was delivered in Week 5 of the Spring Term. The 2-hour session focused on building students’ confidence in their ability to manage stress and anxiety and on equipping our students with techniques that could enhance their learning potential. The design of the session was as follows:

Dealing with Academic Pressure:

Introduction – Dr Madeleine Davies: outlining the aims of the Masterclass: managing academic pressure and facilitating success; the connection between academic and professional resilience; the roots of ‘performance anxiety’; redefining (but not denying) ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation (including the difference between MH problems and routine anxiety)

Feedback and How to Use it Constructively:

Introduction – Dr Tony Capstick: how feedback is often interpreted as a personal attack; what its intentions are; how it is a positive learning tool; connection with the professional workplace; how to USE feedback.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation

Motivation, Perfectionism and Procrastination

Introduction – Dr Ute Wolfel: motivation – reminding students of the questions, ‘What do I want to learn? What do I enjoy about these topics?; how perfectionism produces procrastination and how both can be overcome.

Dr Pena-Bizama’s presentation

Discussion period

The students were divided into groups and asked to discuss the following:

(a) What triggers/generates their anxiety most?

(b) How can the words ‘stress’ and ‘anxiety’ be reframed?

(c) What tactics and habits can help to restore perspective.

(d) How can feedback be removed from the sense of personal attack and be redefined as a constructive learning tool?

Feedback period

The students fed back the ideas generated by their groups; many students mentioned that talking about their worries to others who shared precisely the same concerns was of great help. Students also very usefully identified the source of their anxiety and others suggested ways of tackling it. The discussion was lively, collaborative and fully supportive: it was a credit to our students.

Dr Madeleine Davies concluded the session, pointing the students towards material and University support structures that could help them in the development of productive habits and attitudes. The second, exams-focused, Masterclass was announced and written feedback on the session was collected.

STUDENT PARTICIPATION AND FEEDBACK

The Masterclass was delivered on Wednesday 8th February 2017 and 45 students attended. There was a high level of interaction throughout and student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The form that we designed asked for feedback in the following areas:

Did you find the content reflected your concerns?

15 x ‘5’ (extremely well matched); 27 x 4 (well matched); 3 x 3 (neutral)

Do you think you will find it easier to manage academic pressure (particularly assessments) after the Master Class?

32 x ‘Yes’; 10 x ‘Maybe’; 3 x ‘No’.

Do you feel that you are better equipped to develop a more positive attitude to feedback and study following the Masterclass?

25 x ‘Yes’; 18 x ‘Maybe’; 2 x ‘No’.

Most of the forms added a comment: examples include, ‘Thank you SO MUCH’; ‘I feel much better’; ‘It’s good to know I’m not alone – loads of people here feeling the way I do’, ‘I think I can do this now!’; ‘I liked that the teachers were really honest about feeling stressed too and told us how they cope with it’; ‘Fantastic practical help – it’s what I needed’.

MOVING FORWARDS

The success of the collaboration in delivering the Resilience Masterclass initiative will be sustained going forwards. Prior to the exams period (May 2017) the same group of colleagues will collaborate on an ‘Exams Masterclass’ and in the 2017-18 session we will run three ‘Resilience’ and ‘Exams’ Master Classes in the Autumn, Spring and Summer Terms so that we can intervene early and prevent serious cases of anxiety arising (this will benefit retention). We are committed to working together as a team comprised of diverse skills to support our students in developing mental resilience to underpin academic achievement and to help them to embed the attitudes, habits and techniques that form the route to learning and professional success.

Engaging Everyone – reflections on Wednesday’s D&I-themed T&L Conference – By Simon Chandler-Wilde

I was blown away by Wednesday’s teaching & learning conference “Engaging everyone: addressing the diversity and inclusion expectations of the Curriculum Framework“. This was lead-organised by my CQSD colleagues, especially Nina Brooke, but as a collaborative effort across the T&L patch, working with the T&L Dean Elizabeth McCrum  and others, and with the RUSU Education and Diversity Officers, Niall Hamilton and Sed Joshi. The venue – the large Meadow Suite in Park House – was excellent – and full to the brim with staff and students from across the University, including regular academics, many from the “Leadership Group”, and very many of the School Directors of Teaching and Learning who have to lead – and cajole –to make change on the ground.


 

 

 

 

 

My jobshare Ellie Highwood will blog separately with her take,

Including local data on attainment gaps, and gaps in BAME representation between the student body and the staff side, that she presented with Sed in their highly interactive presentation in the morning.

I’ll focus myself on the sessions run by the conference Keynote speaker, Professor Gurnam Singh, Principal Lecturer in Social Work at Coventry University and Visiting Professor of Social Work at Chester University.

In his afternoon workshop on “Transformative Pedagogy in Action” Gurnam revealed more of his background: this something he advocated, for connecting to the learner, humanising relationships, and sharing vulnerabilities. He described his (extraordinary) academic journey from UFD (his O-level grades) to PhD (Social Studies at Warwick) and beyond, starting with his early rebellious school career in Bradford, truanting in Bradford Central Library (where much of his education happened), the one bright (and memorable) spark at school the lunchtime lectures in Sophocles and classical architecture from “Mr Mitchell” whose passion for teaching and his subject has had a lasting impact.

Talking about research vision on his website Prof Singh describes himself “as an academic activist in that what inspires me both in my teaching and research is the desire to transform individuals and society”. This perspective and motivation came through strongly in his morning Keynote on “Understanding and Eliminating Disparities in Degree Awarding: Challenges and Perspectives“,

 

 

 

 

 

 

drawing on his extensive research (and research funding) in this area, including his substantial 2011 Higher Education Academy Report “Black and minority ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success“.

This keynote was a wide-ranging and comprehensive account of the problem and possible solutions. In part it was a (welcome) call to arms and polemic, asking which side of history are we on, urging us to work for a different history, that we can be part of the change. He was scathing about a certain sort of (white upper class) elitism, a “particular kind of superiority, not excellence, something else”, the sort we associate with the Bullingdon Club, and about the impact of Trump in legitimising racism and misogyny (while noting that to many Trump had been the social change candidate), and (very much correctly) observed that “we need more in the academy of my sort”.

In this initial part of the presentation he urged work to diversify the academy – with a BME focus but also commenting more broadly – from a variety of perspectives, reminding us that  from an international legal perspective education is a fundamental human right, of our legal obligations under the equality act, of the moral imperative to act in response to inequality, and of the (neo-liberal?) commercial imperative, reminding us of the business benefits of diversity and the widely-cited McKinsey report, and memorably remarking that his own institution “would not exist as a White university, except as a senior management team”. (Of course, this applies equally at Reading.) These are all potential levers for change. Gurnam cited also the TEF (with its promise of  ‘incentives that reward institutions who do best at retention and progression of disadvantaged students through their college years’) as another key lever. (In this space Prof Singh was part of the Academic Reference Group feeding into the October 2016 report “Working in Partnership: enabling Social Mobility in Higher Education” from UUK.) In summary he noted that, through these various drivers disparity in attainment was moving to the top of the agenda – this was certainly true in Wednesday’s conference and in the associated work that has led to our new Curriculum Framework.

 

 

 

 

 

Prof Singh then talked quantitatively about the BME attainment gap, particularly % difference in attainment of a “good degree” (2.1 or 1st) between BME ethnicities and white students. He emphasised that significant attainment gaps remain once differences in prior qualifications are factored out, using graphs (see latest available figures above: 2013-14 graduates) published by HEFCE: see Annex G of the September 2015 report. In terms of causes and solutions, he was wide-ranging. I’ll edit this blog and add more once I have Gurnam’s slides in my hand (I have my eye on his “jigsaw” picture summarising all suggested possible actions from his research). But in terms of causes he touched on:

  • lack of role models and “people like me” for BME students across the academic staff, particularly the scandalous position at the most senior levels;
  • white-centric curriculum design and content;
  • drip-drip effects of micro-agressions;
  • issues with assessment, ranging from lack of clarity favouring those with larger social and cultural capital, with the resources and networks to find out what the assignment really means, to suggestions that we abandon degree classifications altogether (as we have at PhD level);
  • structural disadvantages: socio-economic, living a precarious existence, impacts of large commuting distance.

He finished his keynote with a call to arms that was really the theme of the whole day; that inclusion and social justice are not just desirable but an absolute moral and economic necessity, and this means we have to mainstream our efforts in attacking attainment gaps  – precisely the point and spirit of our new Curriculum Framework.

This was originally posted on the University’s Diversity and Inclusion blog created by the Deans for Diversity and Inclusion, Ellie Highwood and Simon Chandler-Wilde.

 

 

Actively using the Student Charter with your tutees By Helen Bilton and Michelle Reid

Student Charter ActivitiesStudent Charter ActivitiesHave you heard of the University of Reading Student Charter? Have you used the Student Charter with your students? Although many colleagues can recall it being launched a few years ago, fewer staff and, crucially, even fewer of our students are really aware of what the Charter is, or how it can be used to encourage engagement in Reading’s learning community. This is why we have developed some short activities to help explore the meaning of the Student Charter. These activities focus on different aspects of the Charter such as independent learning. They can be adapted to suit, and they only take a few minutes to run. We designed them particularly for use in personal tutor meetings, but they can also be used effectively in staff training.

Student Charter Activities

The need for the activities came from work we have been doing as a follow-up from the Student Charter Working Group. Helen Bilton chaired the group to respond to a 2014 RUSU survey of student and staff views of the Charter, and to re-examine the Charter’s content for changes or updates. The Working Group carefully examined the wording of the Charter and found that (with some debates about content) it was fit for purpose. Student responses to the Charter were high and very positive, but the main concern was the lack of awareness and publicity. Therefore, we felt one avenue for promoting the Charter to students was through the Personal Tutor system. Likewise there was a good response to the questionnaire from staff with lots of positives but again a concern that it was not visible enough.

We trialled the activities at Personal Tutor briefing sessions in the Institute of Education and in Food and Nutritional Sciences in September. The tutors had a chance to try out some of the activities themselves which produced interesting responses and sparked discussion on how they might use them with their tutees. The feedback from tutors was very positive. Comments included how useful the activities were at starting conversations about what it means to be at University. Tutors also felt the Charter was an effective external and non-personal way of broaching potentially difficult issues of engagement and expectations with students. It has led to one programme embedding the activities within one particular year long module, so that student engagement can be revisited regularly. In another instance some of the Student Charter activities were used alongside the taught component of the module and interwoven, whilst still ensuring each aspect was transparent. With full time Masters students, the activities enabled students from all over the world to discuss and understand the important elements of being a student at Reading.

With Week 6 approaching and many Personal Tutors arranging time to meet with their tutees, we hope the activities will give you some ideas of how you might open discussions about participating in our learning community here at Reading.

If you want to talk to us about the Charter, have any comments to make or feedback about how you are using the Charter please contact Helen Bilton h.o.bilton@reading.ac.uk or Michelle Reid michelle.reid@reading.ac.uk

It’s time! Viva Day – By Heike Bruton, Research Assistant and PhD Researcher

There can’t be many more nerve-wracking oral exams than the PhD viva. A several-year build-up –and then… what? To give research students an impression of what’s it actually like on the day, Dr Carol Fuller from the Institute of Education has produced a short, entertaining and informative video. Using some Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) money, Carol, who is Director of the Institute’s EdD Programme, has teamed up with film maker Henry Steddman – a UoR alumni — to provide reassurance to potentially anxious candidates. Starring some IoE colleagues as well as professional actors, the video thankfully stays clear of vague and meaningless advice often found in self-help type viva-survivor tips, such as ‘just be yourself’ (which is fine if your self is a confident academic on top of your game, not so much if it’s a nervous wreck. As Father Ted says to Dougal: never be yourself! That’s just something people say!)

So how should you be, then? First, let’s remember the cornerstones of the situation you’re in here:

  • You’re the expert on your thesis
  • The examiners have read your work thoroughly…
  • ….and they’re keen to discuss it with you.

On viva day:

  • dress smartly
  • refer to your thesis
  • keep eye contact
  • if unsure, ask questions
  • stay hydrated
  • ….try to relax!
  • at the end, if you’re asked whether you’d like to add anything, take the opportunity.

Then, you’ve done all you can for now, and there’s no more to than just wait, until… it’s time!

Hopefully, you’ll get the desired result, and will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy! Congratulations!

If UoR PhD’ers and EdD’ers find the video useful, Carol is keen to hear their feedback – via any means possible, be it the YouTube comment box, on Facebook or twitter, or via email.” It’s a good way to give students access to an easy-to-use resource”, says Carol. “If students tell us they like this video clip, we can make the case for funding to make more such short films, for example on epistemology or methodology.”

What do you and your students think of Carol’s video? Have a watch here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3hnu2aq8P4

post authored by:

Heike Bruton | Research Assistant and PhD Researcher | University of Reading, Institute of Education, London Road Campus, building L33 room 115, 4 Redlands Road, Reading, RG1 5EX | + 44(0) 118 378 2645 | h.bruton@reading.ac.ukhttp://germanintheuk.com/about/  | https://twitter.com/HeikeBruton

Constructing research methods and statistics teaching

Dr Lotte Meteyard, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences
l.meteyard@reading.ac.uk

Overview

Statistics teaching to Speech and Language Therapists within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences was redesigned in response to module evaluations. Whereas students had previously reported anxiety about statistics and struggled to appreciate the relevance of statistics to their practice, the introduction of formative learning activities which integrated statistics teaching with other module content produced a reduction in anxiety about statistics, a benefit to students’ grades, and an increase in student module satisfaction with their statistics training.

Objectives

  • Increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts.
  • Make explicit links within and across the teaching content to clinical practice.
  • Provide learning activities, outcomes and objectives that are clear to students.

Context

The Research Proposal (PL3RPR) module is compulsory for all Part Three undergraduate and taught postgraduate students within the Department of Clinical Language Sciences. The module provides research methods and statistics teaching, and during the module students plan a research module and complete an ethics application, with these being used for their dissertations. Feedback, however, revealed that students found the statistics lectures confusing and poorly related to other module content. Having teaching provided by a number of staff members contributed to the module having a fragmentary nature.

Implementation

In order to increase the opportunities for students to consolidate and revisit knowledge of key concepts, technology, multiple practice and collaboration were focused on in order to create frequent, meaningful activities for students to complete. Lecture handouts were provided separate from the lecture slides in order to encourage engagement during lectures, and practical activities were used to teach basic quantitative concepts and research design. During activities, analyses of data was completed as a class, and formative exercises were set each week, involving a short reading and answering focused questions on that reading. These assessments were revisited at the start of each lecture in order to feedback and discuss answers to questions. In labs, written instructions were replaced with short videos demonstrating how to complete particular procedures. Worksheets required students to write out results and answer questions about the interpretation of data. The answers to these worksheets were made available on Blackboard Learn after the end of each lab class. For each week of statistics teaching an online multiple choice questionnaire was provided, offering students optional online practice in preparation for the statistics class test. Students were encouraged to have the statistical analysis software PASW or SPSS installed on their home devices to allow them to practice away from lectures.

To make explicit links within and across the teaching content and to clinical practice, the content of the module was restructured so that students were introduced to a particular concept, with this concept then being revisited in later activities. In order to build explicit links with clinical practice students were asked to identify why research skills are important for clinical work, to complete formative assessments that involved reading chapters on healthcare research or journal articles from speech therapy research. Key readings were taken from ‘real world’ sources, such as the magazine of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy or the NHS. Reflection was encouraged through formative assignments which were discussed in the following week’s lecture. These required student to identify why healthcare research is critical to practice, critique a randomised controlled trial, and identify research designs and statistical tests in clinically relevant journal articles.

To provide learning activities, outcomes and assessment tasks that are aligned and clear to students, the learning outcomes of the module were rewritten and linked directly to the summative assessments. Three summative assessments were themselves changed so that students prepared a research proposal poster, an ethics application and a statistics class test. The research proposal poster was introduced to give practice at a professional skill and reduce the duplication of content between making the proposal and the ethics application. By making the ethics application a summative assessment, students would be assessed on something directly relevant to the completion of their project, while only minimal staff input would be required for the document to be submitted to the School ethics committee. The weighting of each piece of assessment was changed so that they contributed more evenly to the overall module mark. Learning activities were designed to support students in accessing and evaluating literature, generating research designs and statistical analyses. By providing research proposal and ethics application examples, and templates for their own on Blackboard Learn alongside detailed guidelines for completing coursework, student were encouraged to seek out supporting material independently.

Impact

Students on the module completed a statistical knowledge multiple choice questionnaire during the first week of the module and again after completing their statistics class test. They also completed the Statistical Anxiety Scale before beginning the module, and again at the end of the module. Results demonstrated that statistical knowledge increased, with students’ median score going from 11/20 before the course (with a range between 5-14) to 15/20 after the course (with a range between 8 and 19). There was also a reduction in anxiety about statistics. Results also demonstrated that there was a significant positive correlation between the number of formative multiple choice questionnaires a student completed and their final score on the statistics class test. Median marks in the class test and research proposal both improved from the previous year, with no students failing the statistics class test. Student module satisfaction also increased.

Reflections

Situating the statistics and research methods teaching in practical activities and in the context of students’ professional learning was one of the most powerful changes made to the module: students responded positively to practical activities used to demonstrate statistical concepts. While full participation could not be guaranteed, enough students completed tasks to allow discussion and review of these at the beginning of each lecture.

By using technology for students to practice skills away from the classroom, students were able to increase their knowledge of statistics after the course. It was particularly gratifying to see the correlation between the number of multiple choice questionnaires completed on Blackboard Learn and the attainment of students during the statistics class test.

Having resources external to the classes available, the module convenor could be assured that students could have sufficient time and experience with concepts and software.

Legal Seagulls : Experience Plan for overseas students

Shweta Band, Law
s.band@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2015-16

Overview

The name ‘Legal Seagulls’ represents all overseas students in the School of Law. I initiated the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan in 2015-16 as a three-step support initiative to enhance the academic and university-life experience for our overseas students.

This includes the Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK), on-arrival Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme and weekly in-sessional support sessions in the form of GOALLS (Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls)

Objectives

  • To model an experience initiative for overseas students as a symbol of real academic and social integration.
  • To develop, deliver and evaluate a structured and continual pre-arrival and in-sessional mechanism.
  • To provide a comprehensive academic transition information at the pre-arrival stage in an endeavour to bridge the gap between the home and overseas legal academic environments.
  • To foster a global outlook towards social integration and employability skills.

Context

The School of Law has a significant number of international students – close to 47% of current students. To establish a single point of contact for them, a new office was established and I was appointed as the first International Support Tutor in the School of Law in February 2015.

I was assigned the task of providing academic and pastoral care to international students. In order to understand the experience of international students in the UK, I began by studying some of the recent research on the topic published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) Guidance.

This research revealed that there is consistent feedback from international students for the need of a structured approach to respond to two of the biggest concerns that they have: difficulties in transition (socio-cultural-academic), and employability attributes. This corroborated with the feedback I had received in a number of meetings with members of the academic staff, support services and overseas students in the School of Law.

This inspired me to develop the Legal Seagulls Experience Plan with the objective being that it will positively change the quality of overall experience for the students during the period of study with us, and also allow them to attain their academic potential and maximize their grades.

Implementation

For an international student, the journey of studying in a foreign country doesn’t begin in the Welcome Week; it actually begins on the day the offer is accepted. To bridge the gap between this period, I send a series of pre-arrival weekly emails in the form of academic bridging e-course to all confirmed offer holders. The PAWK includes guidance and online resources for a smoother academic transition.

During Welcome Week, the School of Law organizes three different Academic Bridging Course Induction Programmes for Postgraduate students, Part One students and Credit-transfer students.

This includes a session each on Academic Calendar, Teaching and Learning Methodology, Course Objectives, Good Academic Practice, Managing Academic Transition, Learning Technology, etc.

Our in-sessional support project, begun in 2015-16, is titled GOALLS : Global Outlook Activities and Learning for Legal Seagulls: free and open weekly sessions delivered by subject experts and based largely on games and group activities. A Certificate of Participation is awarded for attending five or more sessions and this counts toward the Research Experience and Development (RED) Award.

The Autumn term GOALLS focussed on cultural and academic integration and included sessions on topics such as Know Your Host (British Ways of Life), Know the British Legal Academia, and Cross-cultural Communication Training. The Spring GOALLS series was focused entirely on support for careers and examinations.

The students can register for the Academic Induction Programme and for GOALLS via an online registration form on the Legal Seagulls website which is made available from early August.

Impact

In 2015-16, 192 students received the PAWK. I could measure the successful response to this by the number of pre-arrival online registrations received for the Induction Programme (101), GOALLS (55) and Academic English Programme for Law Classes (70)

A total of 131 students attended the Induction sessions in the Welcome Week. This was a positive increase from the previous years. Of the students surveyed, 79% rated the Undergraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5* and 92% rated the Postgraduate Induction Programme as 4* or 5*.

Close to 300 students benefited from the fourteen GOALLS sessions spread across the Autumn and Spring Terms. Of the 1505 total number of responses received for seven sections, 78% students marked the sessions as Outstanding (5*) or Very Good (4*).

This three-point Legal Seagulls Experience Plan has been able to lay the foundation to:

  • Respond to the early stages of culture shock and novelty for overseas students.
  • Introduce the overseas students thoroughly to UK as a host and to Reading as the host University.
  • Strengthen global graduate attributes and skills for overseas students.
  • Foster intercultural understanding and communication.

A few encouraging responses quoted from the student feedback are indicative of the positive impact: “Interaction with people of a different ethnicity other than mine rebuts my initial mindset about them”; “It was brilliant learning the debate mechanism and how to structure an oral argument properly”; “Today’s session has been tremendously useful for law students who are preparing for the upcoming exam. I have learnt a number of ways to study effectively.”

Reflections

The Pre-arrival Academic Welcome Kit (PAWK) and the Academic Bridging Course Induction Programme have been continued almost in the same format for 2016-17.

I have added a team-building activity session for the credit-transfer students’ Induction Programme. The PG Induction will now be live-streamed for the students arriving late and for students on the distance learning programme.

The GOALLS sessions have been reorganized in response to the feedback from the students that most of them were busy with exams and submissions in the Spring term and therefore could not attend the sessions in spite of being interested. This was reflected in the dwindling attendance. In view of this, for 2016-17, I have re-structured GOALLS.

The sessions on academic and cultural integration, career advice and exam support have now been scheduled during the Autumn Term. Electronic feedback has been added to the paper version. As an academic value addition to GOALLS, Professor Susan Breau, Head of School, has very kindly accepted my proposal to start an academic competition, the World Constitutions Showcase, to be delivered by Legal Seagulls under the Public Law Lecture series.

My efforts will also be see a renewed focus on activities reflecting on integration of home and overseas students.

Follow up

I honestly hope to create a well-founded sense of trust amongst our international students that we are absolutely keen on giving them the best possible support and services that any foreign academic institution can think of. We have a vibrant body of overseas students and we benefit in more ways than one from their presence and participation on campus.

The Legal Seagulls Experience Plan will strive to create, nurture and award an environment of mutual learning among the home students, overseas students and staff in the School of Law.

Our long-term aim is to create an ethos of a real and open acceptance of, and support to, the academic and cultural diversity brought to us by our international students.

Links

Fostering effective transition to university learning

Dr Ciara Healy, Arts and Communication Design
c.healy@reading.ac.uk

Overview

This case study presents some approaches taken in the Department of Art to encourage relationship building between different cohorts of students and all members of staff. The majority of activities took place in the first 6 weeks of the Autumn term and focused especially on Welcome Week.

Objectives

  • Encourage relationship building across the Department and the University.
  • Support the development of a sense of community for all students.
  • Facilitate opportunities for students to share their own experiences of starting University with a new cohort.
  • Involve Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Leaders and STaR mentors in as many of these activities as possible.

Context

As module convenor for Part One Art students, I want to ensure that new cohorts are equipped with a deep sense of belonging to a wider creative community. I am aware of how beneficial a sense of belonging is to student wellbeing, engagement and resilience over the course of their degree.

Implementation

  1. Liaise with STaR Mentors and PAL Leaders during Welcome Week.
  2. Invite all members of staff in the Department to introduce themselves to new cohorts during Welcome Week.
  3. Invite staff to present a series of 5-minute dynamic ‘trailers’ on modules to new cohorts.
  4. Facilitate STaR mentor tours of the Department and available resources.
  5. Facilitate weekly discussions throughout the first term on independent learning skills.
  6. Launch an exhibition of finalist artwork on the Friday of Welcome Week. Invite the new cohort to the private view and exhibition party.
  7. Host an exhibition of first year student work in Week 3. Equip students with an awareness of exhibition etiquette in order to help them curate and present their first body of work to all staff and students from the Department. This further emphasizes the importance of belonging to a wider creative community.

Impact

Relationship building across the Department is really important in Art as students thrive when they share resources, ideas, critical judgements, experiences and exhibition opportunities. These activities in the first few weeks of term had a significant impact on how Part One students put together their first exhibition for their assessments at the end of the Autumn term. Students from other cohorts who helped them to install their work commented on how professional and successful it was. These more experienced students were also available to support students who found independent learning a challenge.

Reflections

The existing sense of community in the Department of Art helped to make the implementation of these activities successful. It was difficult at first to recruit students to become STaR mentors, however this has been resolved this year by inviting the Co-ordinators of PAL and STaR mentors to give presentations to the students throughout Spring term. Part One students who attended PAL sessions this year have signed up to become STaR Mentors. Many of them have also signed up to be PAL leaders.

Follow up

There is now an emerging culture of support in the Department of Art through existing creative communities and now increasingly through an engagement with PAL and STAR mentoring. This culture is growing every year and has made a huge contribution to embedding a sense of belonging, resilience and wellbeing amongst Art students at the University.

Take Home Exam by Dr Stuart Lakin, School of Law

This post has been uploaded to the T&L Exchange, and can now be found at:

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/t-and-l-exchange/take-home-exam/